Sometimes, you focus so much on a goal that you don’t think much beyond that goal. For me, I had known for so long that I wanted to be an electrical engineer that I never really thought about what came after graduation. Oh yes, then there’s the story about RIM…
When I was in highschool in Montreal, Quebec, many of my fellow students had no idea what they wanted to be, career-wise. I knew I wanted to be an electrical engineer, so I mostly chose courses in the science track. Grade 11 was the last year of highschool in the Quebec system, culminating with my graduation from highschool.
John Abbott College
After highschool, I went to John Abbott College, a CEGEP, which is a form of college. I took the pre-university program that lasted two years, where I learned a lot of physics, math, and chemistry. I also learned a painful lesson.
During one term, the teachers at John Abbott College went on strike. It was a given that the school term would be canceled. My buddy, RIck, and I decided that if the term was going to be canceled, then why bother attending the classes that were still being held? Well, as it turned out, the strike was settled and the term was not cancelled. Rick and I scrambled to learn what we had skipped and managed to salvage the term, but it remains a rather painful memory. And we fully deserved it.
Engineering Undergraduate Days
With CEGEP under my belt, I was off to university. But which one? I asked my father, who managed an Engineering department, which university supplied the best engineers that worked for him. He replied that the most effective ones came from the University of Waterloo. That university had a great co-op program where you alternated terms between school and work. It took a year longer than most programs, but you ended up with two years of relevant engineering experience by the time you graduated. My father found that the graduates from University of Waterloo really benefitted from their co-op experience and were more effective at the start of their careers than grads without co-op experience. So, I applied to Waterloo and was accepted.
While I was studying at the University of Waterloo, I tried to get a minor in Computer Science. Unfortunately, the classes were in heavy demand and I was always one term behind. I graduated with my Honours Bachelor of Applied Science in Electrical Engineering, but without the minor in Computer Science.
To my total surprise, I was completely unprepared for graduation. I had known since grade three that I wanted to be an Electrical Engineer, and now I was one. But, now what? I had been focused for so long on that one goal that I really hadn’t thought much about what would come afterwards.
I looked for a job, which was a reasonable thing given that we’d just had our first child. However, the job market wasn’t great in 1983. On top of that, I was dissatisfied without that minor in Computer Science. I went to the faculty advisor to ask about joining the Computer Science undergrad program. She was aghast and suggested that, perhaps, I might want to look at doing a Masters Degree in Computer Science. It didn’t take long to see the login in that. So, I applied for Grad studies in Computer Science in the Faculty of Mathematics. I was accepted, and graduated with a Master of Mathematics in Computer Science.
Computer Science Graduate Studies
One of my fellow graduate students came back from a job interview raving about this new company. The interviewer told Mike he’d be driving a Porsche by the end of the year. That intrigued me, of course, so I asked him what this company did. Mike replied that they built signs out of red LEDs across which words would scroll. Since Mike was going to be the third employee at this company, he was in for significant stock options. He told me I’d be a fool not join them. However, their product did not interest me at all. I couldn’t see myself working at that company, even if I could have been the fourth employee. I had much bigger goals and thought he was crazy to settle for so little. The name of that company? RIM, since renamed toBlackBerry Limited.
One day, I was curious how things had turned out for Mike, so I did a web search on his name. Turns out, he did pretty well for himself and is now a substantial philanthropist,donating more than $13M in 2000 alone! Perhaps he wasn’t crazy after all.
This time, as my graduate studies came to a close, I was ready for graduation. I took a position as a lab manager for the Multiprocessor Systems Group research lab at the University of Waterloo and settled in for what I thought was going to be a long career. But that’s another story…